A comparison study on teacher-centered and inquiry
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Theses and Dissertations
A comparison study on teacher-centered and
inquiry-based instruction in science education of
middle school students with learning disabilities:
what is effective?
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A COMPARISON STUDY ON TEACHER-CENTERED AND INQUIRY-BASED
INSTRUCTION IN SCIENCE EDUCATION OF MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS WITH
LEARNING DISABILITIES: WHAT IS EFFECTIVE?
Jessica Sunshine Yorke-Servis
Submitted to the
Department of Special Education Services/Instruction
College of Education
In partial fulfillment of the requirement
For the degree of
Master of Arts in Special Education
May 9, 2012
Thesis Chair: Joy F. Xin Ed.D
© 2012 Jessica Sunshine Yorke-Servis
I would like to dedicate this manuscript to my husband Tom, my parents James and Penelope
Yorke for their continued support, to my three children Tristan, Caleb, and Nolan, and to my
friends and family who have helped make this dream a reality
I would like to express my appreciation to Dr. Joy F. Xin for her guidance and help through the
research and development of this study.
Jessica S. Yorke-Servis
A COMPARISON STUDY ON TEACHER-CENTERED AND INQUIRY-BASED
INSTRUCTION IN SCIENCE EDUCATION OF MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS WITH
LEARNING DISABILITIES: WHAT IS EFFECTIVE?
Joy F. Xin Ed. D
Master of Arts in Special Education
The purposes of the study are to examine the effects of inquiry-based and teachercentered instruction methods when teaching science for middle school students with learning
disabilities. These two instructional methods were provided to 81 students in two middle schools
located in southern New Jersey. Of those, 30 students with learning disabilities, 15 in each
school participated in the study. Both groups were given a pre and post test prior to and after the
three weeks of science instruction to evaluate student performance. In addition, a student and
teacher survey was provided to examine their satisfaction. The results show that students with
learning disabilities receiving teacher-centered instruction gained 11% higher on the posttest
than those taught by inquiry-based instruction. However, students receiving inquiry-based
instruction reported that they enjoyed their learning and would have a career in science.
Table of Contents
List of Figures…………………………………………………………………….…………vii
List of Tables………………………………………………………………………………. viii
Chapter I: Introduction………………………………………………………………………1
Chapter II: Literature Review……………………………………………………………….8
Chapter III: Methodology……………………………………………………………………19
Chapter IV: Findings…………………………………………………………………………27
Chapter V: Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendation………………………………….33
Appendix A Pre/Post Test……………………………………………………………44
Appendix B Student Survey………………………………………………………….49
Appendix C Teacher Survey………………………………………………………….50
List of Figures
Figure 1. Percentage of Participating Students with LD in Ethnic Groups...............20
Figure 2. A Graph pf Pre and Post Test Scores…………………………………..…27
List of Tables
Table 1. Participating Students Information………………………………….…….19
Table 2. Information of Participating Students with LD……………………………19
Table 3. Instructional Procedures…………………………………………………...23
Table 4. Student Pre and Post Test Scores in Learning Science………………...….26
Table 5. Results of the Analysis of Variance ……………………………………….27
Table 6. Responses to the Student Survey…………………………………………..29
Table 7. Responses to the Teacher Survey…………………………………………..31
Statement of the Problems
Science is an important subject area in school in the 21st century. Science education
focuses on the practices of science that lead to a greater understanding of the growing body of
scientific knowledge that is required of students in an ever-changing world. It builds foundation
for knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal
decision-making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity.
A recent study by the U.S. Department of Commerce shows that over the past 10 years,
the growth of jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) was three
times greater than that of non-STEM. The report also shows that STEM jobs are expected to
continue to grow at a faster rate than others in the coming decade. "There is a clear benefit to
providing our students with the strong science education needed to compete in college and the
workplace," said Dr. Stephen Pruitt, Vice President of Content, Research and Development at
Achieve. He also said that a strong science education provides all students with opportunities to
be successful in the 21st century. Unfortunately, American students lag behind internationally in
learning science, making them less competitive for present and future jobs according to a report
published by the National Commission on Excellence Education (1983). Student performance in
eighth-grade science was lower than those in other countries such as China, Taipei, the Czech
Republic, England, Hungary, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Slovenia,
and Singapore (TIMSS, 2007). Thus, a reform in science education is called to begin as an
initiative to increase student performance in learning science.
In 1985, the American Association for the Advancement of Science initiated Project
2061: Science for all Americans. The goal of the initiative is to develop a scientifically literate
society by the year 2061 for all American students. To achieve this goal, Project 2061 conducts
research and develops tools and services that educators, researchers, and policymakers can use to
make critical and lasting improvements in the nation’s science education. The American
Association for the Advancement of Science created Benchmarks for Science Literacy, to
establish standards for learning science, mathematics, and technology by the end of grades 2, 5,
8, and 12. Subsequently, when The National Research Council (NRC) published the National
Science Education Standards (NSES) (1996) focusing on "science for all students... regardless of
age, gender, cultural or ethnic background, disabilities, aspirations, or interest and motivation in
science." ( p. 2). Although the standards in science education targeted "all students," there were
limited discussions on its implementation related to students with disabilities. It is not until the
law of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) enacted in 2002, requiring the assessment of all students in
science, including those with disabilities.
According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, students
with disabilities must be taught in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This means that a
student who has a disability should have the opportunity to be educated with non-disabled peers,
to the greatest extent appropriate. They should have access to the general education curriculum,
or any other program that non-disabled peers would be able to access. The student should be
provided with supplementary assistance and services necessary to achieve educational goals if
placed in a setting with non-disabled peers. LRE has lead to a change in the science classroom to
become an inclusion setting where students with and without disabilities are placed together.
Because of the diverse student population in an inclusive learning environment with students
with disabilities and their non-disabled peers, science teachers are challenged to meet the needs
of all learners at many different levels, especially individuals with special needs.
Of the students with special needs, many are classified as having learning disabilities.
Learning disabilities are identified in childhood persisting throughout life. It is a neurological
disorder causing difficulty in organizing, remembering, expressing information, and affecting a
learner’s basic function such as reading, writing, comprehension, and reasoning. Students with
learning disabilities tend to lack organizational skills and learning strategies. According to the
Learning Disabilities Association of America (2011) approximately 4 to 6 percent of all students
are classified as having specific learning disabilities (SLD) in our nation’s public schools. Many
times these students are pulled out from a science class in elementary school for remedial
instruction in the basic skills areas such as reading and math. As a result, they miss foundational
science knowledge and skills, and have difficulty in learning science.
The National Science Education Standards (2011) identify the teaching levels as K–4, 5–
8, and 9–12. The middle grades (5-8) are considered significant for helping students meet science
goals because of the importance of the new information, new approaches to teaching science in
laboratories, and the new focus on science as a discipline instead of a collection of disciplines
(often unrelated and at times in conflict). Middle schools often do not employ one teacher for all
disciplines as commonly found in elementary schools; nor confine the disciplines to biology,
earth science, chemistry, and physics as commonly found in high schools. Different instructional
strategies are used throughout middle school science classrooms, for example, traditional
approach and inquiry-based instruction. Traditional teacher-centered instruction can be described
as a teacher directly controlling instruction. This approach focuses on lectures, discussions,
questioning, and demonstrations. The inquiry-based instruction is described as a set of
interrelated processes, by which teachers and students pose questions about the natural world and
investigate phenomena; in doing so, students acquire knowledge and develop a rich
understanding of concepts, principles, models, and theories (NRC, 1996). It requires more than
hands-on activities, but to follow problem solving processes that can be applicable to the real
world. It is found that inquiry-based approach in science instruction has a positive impact on
student performance such as achievement scores, process and analysis skills, logical thinking and
improvement in reading and math (Shymansky, Kyle & Alport, 1983). It is also found that
students with learning disabilities could improve their performance in learning science when
taught with an inquiry method as compared to traditional textbook approach (Scruggs,
Mastropieri, Bakken & Brigham, 1993).
In contrast, there are some limitations in the use of an inquiry approach. The first is that
many teachers do not have training. Even science teachers within general education have
expressed a lack of preparation for inquiry-based instruction (Luft, Bang, Roehrig, 2007).
Second, some experts question the premise of minimal guidance during the instruction. Learners
may need guidance until they have sufficiently high prior knowledge to self-direct their learning
(Minner, Levy, & Century 210). Students with learning disabilities need "something more" to
guide their learning during inquiry-based instruction (Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1995).
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1993) and NRC
(1996) endorse science curricula that actively engage students in learning science using an
inquiry-based approach. This approach has shifted the focus of science education from the
traditional memorization of facts and concepts in separate specific disciplines to inquiry-based
learning in which students seek answers to their own questions. The pedagogy advocated for
discovery learning and high levels of thinking, in which students are actively engaged using both
scientific processes and critical thinking skills as they search for answers. It has been found that
inquiry-based instruction activities had positive effects on student achievement, cognitive
development, laboratory skills, scientific process skills, and understanding of knowledge as a
whole when compared to students taught using a traditional approach (e.g. Chang & Mao,1998;
Ertepinar & Geban, 1996; Geban, Askar, & Ozkan, 1992; Mattheis & Nakayama,1988; Padilla,
Okey, & Garrand, 1984; Purser & Renner, 1983; Saunders & Shepardson,1987; Schneider &
Renner, 1980; Wollman & Lawson, 1978). It seems that inquiry-based instruction is an effective
method for students to learn science, and using an inquiry approach would promote student
learning (Gibson & Chase, 2002).
According to Mastropieri and Scruggs (1994), inquiry-based instruction, an activitiesoriented approach reduces the reliance on textbooks, lectures, knowledge of vocabulary, and
pencil-and-paper tests to benefit students with learning disabilities. This approach seeks to
promote learning by providing students with experiences that allow them to discover and
experiment with science. Through discovery and inquiry, teachers involve students in creating
and expanding their knowledge and understanding about the content area being studied
(Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1995). There are many studies conducted in middle school and high
school to evaluate inquiry-based instruction in science. However, there is limited research in
teaching students with learning disabilities. This study will use both traditional and inquiry-based
instructional methods to teach science in the eighth grade to students with learning disabilities. It
attempts to compare the difference on student performance in learning science, and add
information to science education.
Significance of the Study
Students with learning disabilities (LD) tend to lack content knowledge in science due to
previous pull-out remediation as well as struggle with reading, writing, and computation
combined with having a poor self concept as a learner. Motivating these students in learning
science and accommodating their specific academic needs are challenging to science teachers.
How can a teacher create a challenging and exciting learning environment in an inclusive
classroom for all students? How can science teachers fill the content gaps of individuals with
learning disabilities, while continuing to challenge all learners in the classroom? How can
science teachers overcome these obstacles, but motivate students to master the concepts and
teach problem solving skills? What is the appropriate instructional method to teach science to
students with learning disabilities? These questions need to be explored. In this study, inquirybased instruction is used in teaching science to middle school students. It is designed to examine
the effect of such an instructional strategy for individuals with learning disabilities. It attempts to
add valuable information to the field of science education specifically the instruction of students
with learning disabilities.
Statement of Purposes
The purposes of this paper are to: (a) examine the effect of inquiry-based instruction in
teaching science for middle school students with learning disabilities. (b) to compare the
difference of student performance in two teaching conditions: traditional instruction vs. inquirybased instruction. (c) compare the difference of student satisfaction in learning science with
inquiry-based instruction to traditional instruction.
1. Will students with learning disabilities gain scores on their unit tests in learning
science when the inquiry-based instruction is provided?
2. What are the perceptions of students with learning disabilities on learning science
when inquiry-based instruction is provided?
3. What is the difference between student performances when inquiry-based instruction
is provided compared to that of teacher centered instruction?
Review of the Literature
Since the inception of NCLB in 2002, all students are required to participate in their
statewide assessment. This assessment evaluates all student achievements in reading, math, and
science, including those with disabilities. Science is a required subject area in achievement tests
and all students are required to meet the state mandatory standards in science education.
Currently there are two prominent teaching strategies in science education: teacher-centered and
inquiry-based instruction. This chapter reviews these instructional strategies and discusses how
each strategy relates to effectively teaching science to students with learning disabilities (LD).
Students with LD in Learning Science
One of the four guiding principles of the National Science Education Standards is simply
"science for all students" (NRC 1996). This principle underscores the belief that all students,
regardless of race, gender, or disability, should have the opportunity to learn and understand the
essential science content described in the standards. Because of increasingly widespread
inclusion practices and more thorough identification procedures, students with LD are becoming
a large group in the science classroom. Between 5% and 10% of all K-12 students are identified
as having a specific learning disability (Department of Education, 2002) and it is anticipated that
this number will grow (Kavale & Forness, 1995). Individuals with LD generally have average or
above average intelligence, yet they often do not achieve at the same academic level as their
peers. Their weak academic achievement, particularly in reading, writing, and math, is perhaps
the most fundamental problem.
Students with LD often struggle with academic subjects in their general school
curriculum and their science classes. Between 36% and 56% of students with LD leave high
school without a diploma or certificate of completion and their average scores of science
achievement tests are almost one standard deviation below than that of those without disabilities
(Anderman, 1998). These students experience difficulty in many skills and lack the appropriate
strategies needed to become successful in a science setting (Bucalos & Lingo, 2005). According
to Alden and Grumbine (2006), these students exhibit deficits in organization, reading, memory
and writing. They benefit from appropriate instructional methods to meet their needs and
enhance learning opportunities.
Although the growing importance of science education for students with LD has been
recognized, research by Patton, Polloway, and Cronin (cited in Cawley, 1994) indicated that
many of the students receive very little or no science instruction. This can be explained by
students being pulled out to be remediated for basic skills during the time period for science.
Further, many practicing science teachers have little training or few experiences in identifying
and meeting the needs of students with disabilities (Stefanich & Egelston, 1995). They are not
adequately prepared to teach these students and often use a content-oriented approach that
focuses on learning vocabulary words and factual information through textbooks and teacherdirected presentations, such as lectures and teacher’s demonstrations (Mastropieri & Scruggs,
1994; Weiss, 1993).
According to Salend (2005), students with LD face many challenges in learning science.
These include their impairments in one or more of the following areas: comprehension, spelling,
articulation, written expression, problem solving, and/or math computation; all of which are
applicable to learning science (Martinez 2006). Content specific vocabulary, complex scientific
text in learning materials, note taking, listening, and writing are just a few basic skills that these
students are challenged with (Alden & Grumbine, 2006). Therefore, they often receive low
grades and perform significantly behind their general education peers (Holahan, McFarland, &
Piccillo, 1994; Parmar & Cawley, 1993). Definitely, these students can learn science and master
skills when teachers employ instructional adaptations based on research approved effective
practices (Grossen & Carnine, 1996; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1993).
Strategies in Science Instruction
Science teachers are challenged daily to modify instructional materials and strategies to
meet the needs of all learners, including those with LD. To achieve equal access to the general
education science curriculum, students with LD must be able to engage in class and process the
information presented in a meaningful way. Therefore, teachers must be prepared to present
materials through effective research-based instructional methods (Teaching Science to Students,
2003). There are two commonly used instructional strategies in teaching science. One is
traditional teacher-centered instruction and another is student-centered instruction, known as
Traditional Instruction. Traditionally, Teacher-Centered Instruction is described as
teacher lecturing and textbook oriented instruction (Tekkaya, 2006). The two main
characteristics of the instruction are lecture oriented and text book based. In the teacher-centered
instructional model, teachers select a topic or skill for the lesson, then, students practice
independently following the teacher’s guidance. There is limited interaction between students
and the teacher and among the students. This instructional method is typically provided in
The strength of teacher-centered instruction is its explicit procedures through whole class
lecture that would be appropriate for teaching facts, concepts, vocabulary, and theories. Students
are guided with a step by step fashion in the learning process. The instructional procedures are
incremental, sequential, and highly organized, allowing students with LD to follow steps to
complete complex tasks (Tanner, 2003).
Three levels of practice are commonly applied in teacher-centered science instruction.
The first level consists of reading about products and processes of science or being told. The
second level is class discussion among students or between students and the teacher. The third
level is the teacher’s demonstration of an experiment followed by lecturing with explanations
(Renner & Staford 1970).
Textbooks are the major resource in class (Woodward, 1992). Science textbooks today
include a tremendous amount of information along with grade appropriate vocabulary words.
Science curriculum is based upon textbooks to provide the methods of teaching. There is a close
relationship between the text, the course of study, and the systematic instruction according to the
topics of the text. If students come from underprivileged homes, textbooks are the main resource
for information in learning science. As a conclusion, it is found that when teaching explicit
procedures and comprehension, repeated practice is provided for students with LD resulting in
increased test scores (Burton 2006).
This was evidenced in McCleery & Tindal’s study (1999) in which a significant
difference in student performance was found when teacher-centered instruction was provided
comparing with inquiry-based instruction. The study was conducted in an urban school district
located in the Pacific Northwest. A total of 57 sixth-graders in two general education science
classes participated. Of these, 14 are classified as having learning disabilities, and receiving
special education services. A 90-minute block time was scheduled every other day, for a science
class taught by the general education teacher using the textbook of Physical Science (Cooney,
Pasachoff, & Pasachoff, 1990).
The goal of this study was to assess the effect on student explanations of a scientific
problem when they were taught from a teacher-centered conceptual basis using explicit, rulebased instruction. Results showed that in teacher-centered instruction, 78% of students included
an explanation, and in inquiry-based, 36% of the students included an explanation. A significant
difference between the teacher-centered instruction and inquiry-based instruction was found. The
study shows clear, direct, rule based instruction is more effective for students with LD than
inquiry-based instruction. It seems that using explicit, step by step instruction focused on a textbook and guided by a teacher benefits these students. The problem is that students with LD have
difficulty detecting important information in a book with rich texts (Woodward 1994). Textbook
publishers often neglect certain skills the students need to further develop.
Meanwhile, students with LD do not always acquire skills in the normal developmental
sequence (Reading Methods and Learning, 1990). If adequate phonemic awareness is not
developed by a student with LD during the pre-reading period, effective decoding may not be
possible (Reading Methods and Learning). For example, phonemic awareness influences the
development of fluent reading and comprehension skills. This is why these students have
difficulties in reading the science textbook that teacher-centered instruction is based on.
Inquiry-based Instruction. The Inquiry-based instructional approach refers to a process
where students explore, investigate, search for information, and discover and seek solutions to
the problem issue under a teacher’s guidance (Otieno, 1999). The American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1993) and the National Research Council (NRC) (1996)
endorse science curricula that actively engage students in science using an inquiry-based
approach. This approach has shifted the focus of science education from the traditional
memorization of facts and concepts in separate specific disciplines to inquiry-based learning in
which students seek answers to their own questions. The pedagogy advocated for is an inquiry
approach, in which students are actively engaged using both science processes and critical
thinking skills as they search for answers. This inquiry engages students in using multiple tasks
such as mathematics, reading, and writing as they gather and analyze data in regards to the
guiding question or problem (Collins et. Al., 2001).
The Inquiry-based instructional method requires teachers to plan in advance to allow the
classroom atmosphere to be conducive to inquire. Before students begin their investigation, a
strong foundation of basic scientific concepts must be laid out to support their inquiry. This
foundation includes creating an environment to enable students to become comfortable for
offering and sharing their thoughts and opinions (Beaver et. Al., 2003). Therefore, it is
imperative to create a foundation based on inquiry skills. The first step in this process is that the
teacher must create a question which catches student attention and interest. The second step is
that teachers must guide students towards the objective of the lesson(s). In addition, teachers
must exhibit improvisational skills due to the multiple directions this method could explore.
Thus, teachers should be cognizant of the questions they ask and be flexible serving as a resource
person (Beaver et. Al., 2003). An inquiry requires the ability for students to pursue questions,
evaluate solutions, and gather information to seek out answers (Beaver et. Al., 2003).
Many studies found inquiry-based science instruction for middle and high school students
had positive effects on students’ science achievement, cognitive development, laboratory skills,
science process skills, and understanding of science knowledge as a whole when compared to
students taught using a traditional approach (Chang & Mao, 1998; Ertepinar & Geban, 1996;
Geban, Askar, & Ozkan, 1992; Mattheis & Nakayama,1988; Padilla, Okey, & Garrand, 1984;
Purser & Renner, 1983; Saunders & Shepardson, 1987; Schneider & Renner, 1980; Wollman &
Most research on middle and high school inquiry-based science programs examined
students’ achievement test scores or process skills as their comparison measures. However, the
long-term impact on students’ attitudes towards science and interest in science careers has not
been explored. For example, Chang and Mao (1998) compared the impact of two weeks of
traditional lecture-type instruction to two weeks of inquiry-based instruction on secondary
students’ achievement in learning earth science. It is found that students who were taught using
the inquiry-based method scored significantly higher on an achievement test than those who
were taught using the traditional lecturing approach.
It seems that scientific inquiry engages students in using the multiple literacies of
mathematics, reading, writing, and oracy as they gather data, determine how these data constitute
evidence for the claims they are generating, and share and evaluate these evidence-based claims
with others. At the same time, students encounter significant conceptual challenges as they work
toward an explanation of the phenomenon they are investigating (Palincsar 2001.)
Major findings indicated that middle school students experiencing the inquiry-based
format with constructivist teaching practices: (1) learned basic concepts as well as students who
studied them directly from the textbook, (2) achieved as much general concept mastery as
students who studied in a textbook dominated way, (3) applied science concepts in new
situations better than students who studied science in a more traditional way, (4) developed more
positive attitudes about science, (5) exhibited creativity skills that were more individual and
occurred more often, and (6) learned and used science at home and in the community more than
students in the typical textbook dominated section.
In a study by McCarthy, (2004) 18 middle school students with disabilities were taught,
over the course of 8 weeks, on ‘‘Matter’’ by two different instructional approaches. Students in
one classroom received a traditional textbook approach to science content, whereas students in
another classroom received science instruction by a hands-on and thematic approach. Over the
course of instruction, data were collected regarding students’ behavior and achievement. Results
indicate that, overall, students in the hands-on instructional program performed significantly
better than the students in the textbook program on science achievement, a hands-on assessment
and a short-answer test.
Further, Yager and Akcay (2008) investigated inquiry-based instruction comparing a
typical textbook dominated traditional teacher-centered approach in middle school science
classrooms. The purpose of this study was to determine whether inquiry- based instruction
increases student concept mastery, general science achievement, use of concepts in new
situations, and attitudes toward science. Two teachers and 52 students in grades six through eight
participated in the study. Two sections of middle school science were taught by two teachers
where one used an inquiry-based approach and the other retained a typical use of the textbook as
a class organizer. Each teacher administered the same pre- and post-assessments. It seems
evident that concept mastery is not lost when students explore and act on their own as part of
class projects. Most important, students learning inquiry-based methods can apply the science
concepts that they seem to know in new situations. This is impressive evidence that inquirybased instruction makes learners really comprehend; they can use the information and skills on
their own in new situations. The development of more positive attitudes suggests that benefits in
the affective domain may result which in turn provide strong arguments about the desirability of
organizing lessons around ideas and procedures other than basic science concepts and processes,
especially in middle schools. As Hodson (1990) indicated, inquiry-based learning is a more
effective way for students to learn science. Additionally, students who use an inquiry approach
have improved attitudes towards both science and school while other studies show more negative
attitudes resulting from traditional methods (Gibson, 1998a, 1998b; Jaus, 1977; Selim &
Shrigley, 1983; Shrigley, 1990).
It appears that inquiry-based instruction is more effective for students with LD. Research
shows that these students tend to gain scores on their unit tests in learning science when the
inquiry-based instruction is provided. However, students with LD did not demonstrate the same
conceptual growth as their non-disabled peers (Collins et. Al., 2000). It is found that these
students have difficulty participating in the inquiry activities, because they lack essential factual
and conceptual knowledge. They need considerable instruction and encouragement to be
successful in this learning process. Teachers must feel comfortable enough with the content in
order to assist students in their exploration through self-questioning. If the material is not
mastered, or students are not up to the challenge, inquiry-based instruction will be difficult for
teachers to implement and prepare for, and in turn these students may not benefit when such an
instructional approach is provided.
The IDEA Amendments of 1997 require that students with disabilities have access to the
general education curriculum. This legislative requirement makes the accessibility of curricular
materials an issue of even greater importance than it otherwise would be. To meet the goal of
equal access to the curriculum for everyone, to enable each student to engage with his or her
lessons in a meaningful way, teachers must be prepared to provide useful alternatives in terms of
both curriculum materials and instructional delivery. Well-adapted materials without an effective
method of teaching are practically useless, but with the proper tools and instructional methods, a
good teacher can encourage each member of the class to participate directly in the learning
Learning science is a challenge for students with LD because it requires synthesizing the
skills of reading, writing, listening, and math. Students with LD have difficulty in these basic
skill areas. It is a teacher’s challenge to motivate these students in learning science and to
provide an appropriate teaching strategy to benefit these students. Traditional teacher centered
instruction is centered on texts, lectures, and note taking. Inquiry-based instruction allows
students to be responsible in their own learning process through their own interests to formulate
their own problems. In recent years, research was conducted to evaluate effective instructional
methods in middle school science instruction (Liu, 2010). Further studies may need to be
conducted to evaluate instructional methods in teaching science for students with learning
This study was conducted in two suburban middle schools in southern New Jersey. One
school provided inquiry-based instruction in all science classes, and the other provided a
traditional teacher-centered instruction model. Two teachers, one from each school, teaching
middle school science in an inclusive setting participated in this study together with their
students. The classroom in one school is a small, and another is split with one side for instruction
and another for fixed laboratory tables. Students were in inclusion settings, including both
regular students and those with learning disabilities (LD) classified by the school’s child study
team according to the state’s administration code. All lessons were taught by a certified science
teacher with a special education teacher as in class support in each school. In school 1, there are
three classes assigned to provide inquiry-based instruction. In school 2, there are two classes
assigned to provide teacher-centered instruction.
A total of 81, 7th and 8th grades in the two schools were permitted to participate in the
study. The students range from ages of 12-16. Table 1 presents the information of participating
Participating Students Information
Of the participants in the two schools, 36 students were classified as LD. Table 2 presents their
Information of Participating Students with LD
Students with LD
Of these students 53% are Caucasian, 25% are African American, 8% are Asian and 14% are
Hispanic. Figure 1 presents the ethnic information.
Figure 1. Percentage of Participating Students with LD in Ethnic Groups
The science lessons are both on one unit, cells were taught for three weeks.
Inquiry-based Instruction. School 1 is assigned to provide inquiry-based instruction.
The curriculum consists of a scope and sequence guide for 7th and 8th grades including a textbook
entitled Interactive Science, Organization and Development by Pearson with a student workbook
and an online component. This textbook is complimented with daily activities from Measuring
Up, and a test preparation guide. The scope and sequence guide is broken down into concept,
standard, unit, lessons, objective, and number of days. A typical lesson includes a 10 minute
warm up from Measuring Up, in the textbook to require students working quietly to solve the
problems independently. The teacher then guides the students through highlighting key words to
solve the warm up problems together with students by presenting the answers on a projector. The
class is then guided through the lesson with their workbooks and notebooks. Students are
constantly connecting with the text by filling in words, highlighting, or answering questions. The
lab activities are completed weekly with a combination of online videos and experiments.
Teacher-centered Instruction. School 2 is assigned to provide teacher-centered instruction. Two
science textbooks are used. These include: Cells, Heredity, and Classification Short Course C
and Microorganisms, Fungi, and Plants Short Course A published by Holt Science and
Technology. A typical lesson starts with 10 minutes for a warm up activity in which the students
copy a science fact pertaining to the lesson from the smart board and then followed by teacher
lecturing. The teacher also provides experiments as demonstrations. All the lab activities are
teacher generated once a week following the textbook.
Tests. Pre and post tests were developed by the researcher and approved by both the
regular education and special education teachers to assess student learning on cells and
microorganisms. Each quiz consists of 30 questions in the format of multiple choices. (see
Appendix A for an example). These tests were used prior to and after the three weeks of
Survey. Student Survey. A student survey was developed by the researcher based on
Grabowskiet. al.’s study (2003). All survey questions were adopted from the survey in their
study named “Science Teachers’ Perspectives of Web-Enhances Problem-Based Learning
Enviornment”. The survey included 18 short questions regarding student satisfaction with
learning science in class (see Appendix B).
Teacher Survey. A teacher survey was developed to examine teacher’s perspectives in
teacher-centered instruction or inquiry-based instruction in science education. It included 10
short questions in regards to planning time, student self management, and learning outcomes
when teacher centered or inquiry-based instruction was provided.
A pre and post test group design was used in the study. Within this research design
students with learning disabilities are given a pre and a post test to measure their academic
performance when inquiry-based instruction was provided comparing to teacher centered
instruction. School 1 was instructed using inquiry based instruction and School 2 was instructed
using teacher centered instruction. Both groups of students were instructed for three weeks. In
addition, a self-report survey was administered to the teachers and students at the end of the
study to examine their perspectives regarding their teaching and learning experiences.
Inquiry-based Instruction. A scope and sequence guide is used to depict lessons,
objective and days for teaching specific concepts related to the state’s Core Curriculum
Standards. Each chapter includes three lessons. Within the Organization and Development unit in
Life Science, there are two chapters and 6 lessons that pertain to cells and microorganisms.
Teacher-centered Instruction. The instructional procedures followed the lesson plans designed by
the text book publisher. The chapter covered three topics on cells: Diversity, Eukaryotic, and the
Organization of Living Things. It also included a lab model on making elephant sized Amoebas.
After all three topics were presented along with the lab demonstration the students completed the
Chapter Review in the text book (see Table 4 for instructional procedures).
In this teaching method the teacher
presented the students with the concept to
be studied through active learning.
Students are guided through active
learning with structure and support for all
activities. Student binders, notebooks, and
workbooks are organized with tables of
content, dates, and concepts. They are used
and referred to throughout the year when
learning new concepts, or reviewing
previous concepts. They also provide
background knowledge necessary for new
concepts for all students to refer to.
In this teaching method, the teacher
presented all information to students
through lectures. The class completed the
questions in the text book, the chapter
review, and the labs included with the
curriculum. The teacher modified the lab
reports to accommodate all learners. They
are scaffolded to begin with a lot of
structure and throughout the year remove
the supports to empower the student to
complete them on his or her own.
1. The warm-up was handed to students at 1. The topic of cells and living things was
the door and consisted of test prep question introduced to the students. The teacher
from Measuring up.
tried to activate students’ prior knowledge
by asking a series of oral questions.
2. After approximately 7 minutes, the
teacher guided the students through
2. The students were presented information
highlighting key vocabulary word and
on the topics in the textbook along with the
clues to solving the problem.
10 minute warm-up posted on the
smartboard. The students are to copy the
3. The students followed along
warm up in their science journals. The
highlighting their own papers and
warm-ups go with the curriculum.
answering question aloud from the teacher.
3. Steps one and two were repeated daily
4. Once finished, the students placed the
throughout the chapter.
warm-up in their science binders to
4. The teacher lectures and the students are
reference at a later date.
required to take notes.
5. The students were then given guided
noted for the chapter with words missing
5. The students answer chapter review
question and the questions at the end of
and asked to fill in words, circle words,
each lesson in their notebooks.
and highlight information throughout the
6. Once finished the students added the
guided notes to their science binders.
6. The teacher goes over the question and
answers aloud and the students check their
7. The teacher then instructed the students
to their workbooks to introduce a new
topic. The text recalls information and asks
students to think like a scientist. The
students filled in brainstorming
information and prior knowledge in the
8. The text relies connects the science
concepts to current industries and daily
living. The videos are used in connection
with the text and are accessible to the
students from home.
Testing. The pre and post tests were administered to two entire classes at School 1 and 2,
but only the participating student’s scores were recorded for the study. The tests were
administered by the researcher with the regular education and special education teacher in the
room. The pre and post tests were administered on paper and the students marked their answers
on the scantron answer sheet by filling in the appropriate bubble that correlated to the testing
questions. All students were required to complete their test in the classroom.
Survey. Two surveys were administered during this study, one for the students and
another for the teachers. The student survey was administered in their class so that participating
students would not be identified by their classmates. All students received a copy of the survey
to review and complete individually in 30 minutes. The teacher survey was administered
simultaneously to the regular and special education teachers in the classroom. The teachers read
and responded to the questions individually. Each teacher was given 30 minutes to complete the
Student pre and post test scores were analyzed statistically using an ANOVA analysis to
examine the difference between two groups of students when teacher-centered or inquiry-based
instruction was provided. In addition, student and teacher’s survey responses were presented by
frequency and percentages.
This study examined the effects of teacher-centered instruction and inquiry-based
instruction for students with learning disabilities in learning science. A survey was also provided
to participating teachers and students to investigate their satisfaction with their teaching and
Pre and post tests were administered to all participating students. Table 5 shows means,
and standard deviations of test scores when teacher-centered instruction and inquiry-based
instruction was provided. These scores are compared to that of students in School 2 using
ANOVA to analyze the difference.
Student Pre and Post Test Scores in Learning Science
Percentage of questions
Average Student Scores
Figure 2. A Graph pf Pre and Post Test Scores
The pretest scores collected from both School 1 and School 2 were similar. There was a
slight difference in average pretest scores between two schools, but not significant. The post test
scores revealed an 11% increase when teacher-centered instruction was provided for students
with learning disabilities, while only a 5% increase when inquiry-based instruction was provided.
There is an interaction between the pre and posttest with a significance (F =4.39, p< .05). Table 6
presents ANOVA Results.
Results of the Analysis of Variance
These results show there is an interaction between the pre and posttest and a
significant difference between groups (F =4.39, p< .05), in favor of School 2 when teachercentered instruction was provided.
Table 6 presents the students’ responses to the survey when they were taught using
inquiry-based instruction and teacher-centered instruction. The students that participated in the
study and the student survey are students that have been diagnosed with a learning disability. All
students in the class including both regular education and special education students took the
survey. Only the results of those with LD who participated in the study survey results were
recorded and tallied.
Responses to the Student Survey
1. Science is my favorite class.
2. I enjoy science class.
3. My favorite part of science is
4. I participate in science class
activities and experiments.
5. I feel my science class moves at
an appropriate pace to me.
6. I will use the information I
learned in my science class in my
7. I typically receive a grade of A or
B in science.
8. Science has value in my life.
9. I will have a career in a science
10. I like the way my science class
The survey results reveal that 95% of students taught using inquiry-based instruction
reported they enjoy learning science. Only 53% of students instructed using teacher centered
instruction reported they enjoy science. This is a significant discrepancy. 50% of students taught
using teacher centered instruction felt they would not have a career in a science field compared
to 95% of those taught students of inquiry-based instruction indicated that they would have a
career in a science field. This survey reveals a 45% discrepancy between the groups and how
students value science in their lives. 89% of students in the Inquiry group and 72% of students in
the teacher-centered group reported that they will not use the information taught in their science
class in their lives.
At the end of the study the three participating teachers took a survey. Table 8 presents the
survey results. The special education teacher in school 1 was out on medical leave and unable to
take the survey. Of the three teachers two were regular education science teachers and one was a
special education teacher.
Responses to the Teacher Survey
1. I have had official training
in Teacher Directed or
2. The students respond well
to the teaching style used in
3. I think my current
instructional strategy is
4. My students are actively
engaged in 50-75% of the
5. I think all students learn
more in science using
problem based learning.
6. The instructional method
used in my class is effective
for students with Learning
7. The teaching strategy used
in my classroom allows for
students to move at their own
pace according to their
8. Many students apply the
content learned in class to
other subject areas.
9. There are many science
related jobs and careers
available to students in the
county and state.
10. All students benefit from
a strong science education.
The results of the teacher survey reveal that the teacher using Inquiry-based instruction is
very confident in the teaching method and feels his students respond well to it. All teachers
report the teaching methods used in their classrooms are research based. All teachers reported the
students in their class are actively involved at least 50% of the class time. 100% of teachers using
inquiry-based instruction and 50% of teachers using teacher-centered instruction reported they
disagree that the teaching strategy used in their classroom allows for students to move at their
own pace according to their academic levels. Both regular education teachers reported they agree
that the instructional method used in their classroom is effective for students with learning
disabilities, however the special education teacher did not agree.
Two teachers gave additional comments on the survey. One teacher reported, “I feel that
some children in ICS should be in the resource room setting, which is not an option at our
school. These children struggle in a large class with the ability to maintain pace, the ability to
read and write within the science curriculum, difficulty concentrating in a large classroom
setting. The children tend to shut down when they feel the work is too difficult. Another teacher
reported, “Students need problem solving skills to be successful in problem based learning.
Students become easily frustrated with problem based learning activities.”
The purpose of the study was to examine the effects of inquiry-based and teachercentered instruction in teaching science for students with LD. The student performance scores of
pre and post tests were compared to evaluate gains when these two instructional methods were
The first research question addressed in the study was to examine student performance in
learning science on the Cell Unit when inquiry-based instruction was provided. Students were
assessed through pre and post tests during the three week when learning about cells, living
things, and micro organisms. The mean of participants’ pre test scores is 38. The mean of their
post test score was 43. This yielded an average gain of 5% in student scores for those receiving
inquiry based instruction.
In comparison to inquiry based instruction, students were taught using teacher-center
instructional method in another school during the same three week instructional period. The
mean of the pre test scores was 34, while their post test scores were 45, yielding an average gain
When reviewing the test scores the students receiving teacher centered instruction
performed 6% higher than those receiving inquiry-based instruction, which presented a
significant difference between these two groups. The results support that students with learning
disabilities score higher when teacher centered instruction is provided. There are several
explanations for these results. The most prominent is that students with learning disabilities
strive with the structural nature in the lesson delivery, students are required to follow directions
and participate in class practice. The information presented is later regurgitated on performance
assessment. They learned the concepts and knowledge evidenced in their post test scores.
The second research question addressed the perceptions of students with learning
disabilities on learning science when inquiry-based instruction is provided. 79% of students
receiving inquiry based science instruction reported that they agree or strongly agree science is
their favorite subject while only 50% of students receiving teacher-centered instruction reported
science is their favorite subject. 99% of the students receiving inquiry based instruction reported
that they enjoy science class, while 78% of students receiving teacher-centered instruction
reported. There is a 21% discrepancy between the two groups. It seems that students enjoy
learning during inquiry based instruction.
95% of students in the inquiry-based instruction indicated that they will have a career in
science. Only 50% of students receiving teacher-centered instruction reported they will have a
career in science. This reveals students receiving inquiry –based instruction like the subject area
and want to continue their interests in science in the future.
When the survey data is compiled one can conclude that students receiving inquiry based
instruction value science, science education, and the role science will play in their lives. They
strive to have their careers in science and the related fields.
The third research question is related to the difference between students’ performances
when inquiry-based instruction is provided compared to that of teacher centered instruction.
Student performance demonstrated that when receiving teacher-centered instruction their scores
were 11% higher comparing to those receiving inquiry based instruction.
The findings of the study reveal that students with learning disabilities perform better
when teacher-centered instruction was provided. However, the results of the student survey they
are more likely to enjoy science when inquiry based instruction is provided.
The study had some limitations. First, student scores may be impacted by other variables,
rather than only teacher-centered instruction or inquiry-based instruction. These variables
include teacher perception and interest in science, student motivation, interest, prior knowledge,
and the learning environment. In the pre and post test the variables that can not be accounted for
is maturation. That is simply by cognitive maturation and exposure, most students make some
academic gains regardless of the technique or methodology. For example the pre test data for
group 1 was 4% higher than group2. This could be due to a difference in prior knowledge
between the groups.
In addition, the students’ interest in the topics may attract their attention to become
engaged, resulting in higher score in learning in that particular unit. The time frame of three
weeks was very limited to detect a reliable increase in student performance. Another limitation
of the study is the design of the testing assessment. The assessment was created using all
multiple choice questions. The typical assessments in inquiry based instruction are problem
solving questions with rated and scaled responses. While students in the teacher-centered group
typically practiced in multiple choice questions they may give some benefits for their testing
experience in the same format of assessment.
Finally, the number of students (30) and teachers (4) that participated was very low for a
group design. The teacher personalities and their teaching styles may impact on the study too.
Based on the data collected, I would recommend several changes to improve the
reliability of the study. First, the study should be repeated involving three groups of students and
teachers from three different districts using inquiry based instruction compared to three groups of
students and teachers in three different district receiving teacher centered instruction. This would
create more reliable data to make decisions. Second, the study should involve an assessment
composed of 15 multiple choice questions and 3 open ended questions with points given based
on problem solving and the application of learned content and skills. Third, I would recommend
running the study to discover if student responses change over time.
Through the research and participation of this study I would also recommend further
study in the areas of inquiry-based instruction, transition, and career readiness in the areas of
science education for students with learning disabilities.
Overall, both inquiry-based and teacher-centered instruction proved to have a positive
impact on students with learning disabilities in learning science due to gained scores. Students
with learning disabilities receiving teacher-centered instruction performed 11% higher on the
assessments proving teacher-centered instruction is effective on teaching science to students with
learning disabilities. However, students receiving inquiry-based instruction reported that they
enjoyed learning science and would have their career in this field. Due to the fact that this study
was completed over three weeks, it was unable to evaluate the long term effects of inquiry-based
instruction or teacher-centered instruction for students with learning disabilities in learning
This study has provided information in science instruction to demonstrate the learning
outcomes of students with learning disabilities. I believe that if inquiry-based instruction was
provided over time and related to vocational skills workforce it would show student achievement
in their life and career. The students receiving inquiry-based instruction were able to internalize
and value science education, which can be valuable overtime instead of only mastering content
knowledge in the form of assessment.
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Appendix A. Pre/Post Quiz
The Organization of Living Things
30 Questions multiple choice
1. The benefits of being a multicellular organism include ______
a. small size, long life, and cell specialization
b. generalized cells, longer life, and ability to prey on small animals
c. larger size, more enemies, and specialized cells
d. longer life, larger size, and specialized cells
2. Cells in a many-celled organism all _____
a. have similar shapes
b. are about the same size
c. work together to keep the organism alive
d. perform similar functions
3. Which term refers to cells having different jobs in an organism? ______
c. levels of organization
4. Cell size is limited by the ________
a. thickness of the cell wall
b. size of the cell’s nucleus
c. cell’s surface area-to-volume
d. amount of cytoplasm in the cell
5. What structure allows only certain things to pass in and out of the cell? ____
b. cell membrane
d. golgi body
6. What is the smallest unit that can perform all the processes necessary for life?
7. The first person to see cells with the microscope was ____?
a. Anton van Leeuwenhoek
b. Robert Hooke
c. Matthias Schleiden
d. Albert Einstein
8. Most cells are a very small size because
a. They don’t have hard shells like eggs
b. Their volume does not decrease
c. Their surface area to volume ratio is too small
d. Their volume does not increase
9. What part of the cell forms a barrier between the cell and its environment?
b. Cell Membrane
10. What part of the cell acts as the cell’s delivery system and makes Proteins?
a. Endoplasmic Reticulum
d. Cell Wall
11. What part of the cell keeps all the organelles in place?
12. Larger size, longer life and specialization are three benefits to being
d. No cells
13. What part of the cell is where ATP is made and stored in the inner membrane and used for
a. Golgi Complex
c. Endoplasmic Reticulum
14. What is the function of the Lysosome in the cell?
a. Store water
b. Digestive activities
c. Make proteins
15. What are the tiny round organelles that are made of protein and attached to the endoplasmic
16. What cell part made of cellulose and chitin supports the cell and is found only in plant cells?
b. Cell Membrane
c. Cell Wall
17. Specialization in cells makes tissues, organs, and systems
a.. Grow Large in size
b. Produce Larger cells
c. Stay Healthy
d. Work more efficiently
18. Where do cells come from?
19. Where does photosynthesis take place in a cell?
20. What does the Golgi Complex(Golgi body) do in a cell
a. It packages and distributes materials out of the cell
b. It is the power source of the cell
c. It makes sugar and oxygen
d. It makes proteins
21. _________ All living things get energy either directly or indirectly from the
22. _________ Keeping a constant body temperature in the cold, or increasing your
breathing rate when you run, are considered examples of
23. ________ A type of reproduction that requires two parents is called
A. Asexual Reproduction
B. Simple division
C. Spontaneous generation
D. Sexual Reproduction
24. _______is part of a cell that is only found in Plant cells which provides support and
protection for the cell.
c. cell wall
25. _______What are all of the characteristics of living things?
a. made of cells, use energy, grow and develop, reproduce, respond and adapt to their
b. grow and reproduce
26. The genetic material in cells is called the ______?
c. Endoplasmic Reticulum
27. _________are cells with a nucleus.
d. cell wall
28. ___________is the organelle made up of proteins and RNA
d. cell wall
29. _______ is made up of cells
30. A structure that is made up of two or more tissues working together is a(n) ____?
b. cell wall
d. cell membrane
Appendix B. Student Survey
Please circle one response to following statements.
1. Science is my favorite class.
2. I enjoy science class.
3. My favorite part of science is doing labs.
4. I participate in science class activities and experiments.
5. I feel my science class moves at an appropriate pace to me.
6. I will use the information I learned in my science class in my life.
7. I typically receive a grade of A or B in science.
8. Science has value in my life.
9. I will have a career in a science field.
10. I like the way my science class was taught.
Appendix C. Teacher Survey
Please circle one response to each of the following statements.
1. I have had official training in Teacher Directed or Inquiry-Based instruction.
2. The students respond well to the teaching style used in my classroom.
3. I think my current instructional strategy is researched based.
4. My students are actively engaged in 50-75% of the class time.
5. I think all students learn more in science using problem based learning.
6. The instructional method used in my class is effective for students with Learning Disabilities.
7. The teaching strategy used in my classroom allows for students to move at their own pace
according to their academic levels.
8. Many students apply the content learned in class to other subject areas.
9. There are many science related jobs and careers available to students in the county and state.
10. All students benefit from a strong science education.
Please add any additional comments below or on the back: